What I'm Reading—Maria Walther

Picture books here, picture books there, I have picture books everywhere! So, when Scholastic asked me to write this post, I looked at the book stacks in my office (see photo!) and realized I spend hours pouring over picture books.

I read picture books in my free time because they are the heart of my literacy instruction. I am a staunch supporter of read aloud experiences and use carefully selected mentor texts during my reading, writing, and literacy workshops. 

I know from three decades of experience that well-chosen read alouds can brighten kids’ moods, build background knowledge, and spark deep thinking and conversations.

What do I look for as I’m weeding through the stacks? I begin by separating the books into three broad categories:

  1. read to laugh

  2. read to learn

  3. read to ponder

I’ve based these categories on a series of mini-lessons found in Month-by-Month Reading Instruction for the Differentiated Classroom. These mini-lessons guide young children as they begin to hone their reading preferences. To spark their thinking, we read humorous titles, nonfiction texts, and stories with complex themes and ideas. Then, to sneak in a bit of opinion writing, we invite children to share their reading preferences and the reasons behind them.

Using the three general categories, I’ll share a few favorites from my stacks and my thinking behind their selection.

Read to laugh

If your students enjoy Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat books, they’ll flip over his new character Groovy Joe (illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld). In the first book of the series, Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs, Joe shares his ice cream with increasingly larger dinosaurs until there is no ice cream left. This book makes kids laugh (and dance) because they enjoy Tom’s witty illustrations, including the squirrel wearing shades and, of course, the labeled dinosaur spit!

Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books are consistently voted the funniest in my classroom. Sadly, The Thank You Book was the last in that series. Fortunately, Mo latest book, Nanette’s Baguette, will keep your kids in stiches. Set in a handcrafted cardboard and paper town, Nanette sets off to get a baguette for Mom. After getting the baguette from Juliette, she can’t resist eating the warm, wonderful-tasting treat. You’ll be amazed how many words Mo included that rhyme with the word baguette!

Read to learn

Young nonfiction enthusiasts gravitate toward books with scary-looking illustrations and The Deadliest Creature in the World by Brenda Guiberson is filled with them. From the author/illustrator team that brought us The Greatest Dinosaur Ever (2013) and The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea (2015) this book highlights fourteen animals—from a golden poison dart frog to a Komodo dragon—all vying for the title of the deadliest creature in the world. The books in this series are ideal for reading a page or two a day. In addition, I use them for a springboard to opinion writing.

Another kid-appealing title is Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. While reading this book, which is written in a question-answer format, your learners will discover why thorny devils are spiny and sun bears have long tongues. I read this book when launching students’ nonfiction inquiry experience because in this link, Jenkins and Page walk children through their process of creating this informational text.  

Read to ponder

I’m always on the lookout for books that will spark conversations about empathy and accepting differences. Mike Boldt’s book A Tiger Tail (or what happened to Anya on her first day of school) does just that. We meet Anya on her first day of school just as she discovers she’s grown a tiger tail. She unsuccessfully tries everything to get rid of her tail. Once at school, she bumps into a boy with rabbit ears and realizes, as she looks around her class, that everyone is unique and different. 

Another book that will make kids ponder is Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet? In this one-of-a-kind picture book, a boy and his family are headed on the long car ride to grandma’s birthday party. As their car travels through time and space, you read the book upside down and backwards (don’t forget to scan the QR Codes). In the end, the boy discovers that “there’s no greater gift than the present.”

P.S. In addition to picture books, the books I most enjoy reading (or listening to) are books for my book club. This week, we discussed the delightful book Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld—a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The type of reading I least enjoy is the reading that demands most of my time—e-mail!

Do you have favorite titles that make your students laugh, learn, or ponder? Share them with me on Twitter @mariapwalther. 

Photo courtesy of Maria Walther